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Valeria Gazzola

The neural basis of empathy: insights from animal and human research

Dr. Valeria Gazzola started her scientific career in Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti’s lab, where mirror neurons were first discovered. She then moved to the Netherlands, where her research established that somatosensory cortices play a critical role in social cognition. This extended her work from action-related mirror responses to the domain of sensation and emotions.

Now, she leads the Mechanisms of Social Behavior group at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience of the KNAW, co-leads the Social Brain Lab with Dr. C Keysers, and is an Associate Professor at the University of Amsterdam. Her research investigates the causal relationship between mirror-like activity and social behaviour by using a combination of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), EEG (electrical encephalography), tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) and TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation).

This is what her talk will be centred on:

“When people make us angry and upset, we rarely respond with a violent physical act. Knowing that violence is not the final answer to our problems is of course helpful, but there are also brain mechanisms we believe are in place to limit the occurrence of unjustified violence. By combining imaging and brain-interference methods in a series of human and rodent studies I will show how I think regions mapping the actions, sensations and emotions of others onto matching states in the self influence our social behavior and make us averse to harm.”